Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA), the sole regulator of telecommunication in Nepal is ready for the implementation of the TERAMOCS (Telecommunication Traffic Monitoring and Fraud Control System) system. The authority says that the system will be used to monitor telecom service quality in Nepal and help ensure high-quality voice, data, and other services. There are naysayers to this as well. Here in this post, we dissect all the premises about TERAMOCS system implementation in Nepal, the concerns with phone tapping, NTA’s rebuttal, and all the developments thus far.
The regulator is currently speeding up its process to integrate TERAMOCS which after coming into operation will “access” voice, data, SMS, internet bandwidth, fraud detection, and other services from Nepali telecom service providers. But the system requires cooperation from operators which has rather been difficult. As a result, the authority has earlier, sternly requested cooperation from Nepal’s major telecom service providers namely, Nepal Telecom (Ntc) and Ncell while each has endorsed opposite policies to it.
As recording the data is a debated issue, the authority has to closely work with telcos for its application. Once implemented, the advanced monitoring system will store details of all incoming calls and data usage, SMS, internet usage, etc. However, the idea of NTA collecting user data has long bemused telecom operators.
NTA is serious about the system
The authority had sent a letter on Shrawan 08 seeking a response from the companies within 7 days. And if failed to get so, it warned that they might not get facilitation from the authority for foreign exchanges, and telco procurement. So far, the private telco has nodded to the demand agreeing to share encrypted data. Reportedly, the government-backed Ntc though hasn’t given a green signal for its participation. More on it below.
Last year, the regulator increased the budget to help install the system. Vanrise Solutions has been assigned to install the telecom monitoring system. The system is also known as the International Call Monitoring and Fraud Control System.
In Fiscal Year FY 078/79, NTA had allocated the company Rs 70 crores to start working on the system. The regulator determined the total cost of Rs 1.14 billion for TERAMOCS. But reasoning that the budget falls short for the entire project, it has approved a further Rs 45 crore more to Vanrise Solutions. But the approach to the telcos has reached 1 year but still, no concrete agreement has been possible. Ekantipur reported that over Rs 3.11 billion has been spent on procuring the hardware for the system.
What is TERAMOCS?
TERAMOCS is a testing technology that checks on fraudulent activities, and assesses the quality of voice and data services, its Total Volume, etc. The primary objective of the system is to improve voice and data services and provide customers with quality services. Likewise, increasing ARPU is another purpose of this long-awaited system. However, the idea of NTA seeking telcos’ “user data” has been hotly debated. To address the concern, NTA has released a statement with the purpose of the system and clarification about what it only does and what it won’t.
Why is NTA Implementing TERAMOCS?
NTA says that TERAMOCS is being implemented to minimize criminal possibilities through telecommunication services and also to assess the quality of services based on national and international call frequencies. The authority further adds that the system complies with the Telecommunications Act, 2053 which mentions ensuring utility of telecom services to match its growing development.
The authority has long been mulling over different options to broadly monitor telecom service in Nepal. It already has MDMS in place. Now, with TERAMOCS, telecommunication surveillance would become much stronger. Despite the MDMS launch, still finding missing or lost phones, and criminal surveillance, etc. remain a challenge for agencies. With the two monitoring systems, the concerned bodies will be at ease to keep a check on telecom service providers, their service quality, and customers.
Major Components of TERAMOCS are:
- Traffic Measurement and Monitoring System (TMS)
- Network Monitoring System (NMS)
- Fraud Management System (FMS)
- Extraction System (Probes)
As per the Telecommunications Act, 2053, the system will use the right to get data and monitor services so as to find out the reasons why the companies’ revenue is falling and minimize VoIP, and other illegal activities.
Further, the authority says that the growth in subscribers’ total has not translated to an increase in revenue. At the same time, companies’ network disconnects and private sectors have been raising questions about telcos’ services. It also admits that its Drive Tests have not proved to be effective as expected. So, NTA reasons that the system will help save outflow of billions of money in revenue and help determine future government policies.
Compared to FY 2074/75, in FY 2078/79, telcos’ revenue fell by Rs 21 billion. NTA says that it has made it imperative to set up the system to find out reasons for the plummeting earnings.
What Will TERAMOCS Do?
In essence, the Teramocs system will act as a comprehensive telecom monitoring system that will regulate all the incoming calls and internet data from Nepali mobile service subscribers on all networks. In addition, the system will also help control outlawed VoIP calls, fraud calls, etc. Below is the list of capacities of Teramocs, call, and internet bandwidth monitoring systems.
- Monitor all incoming calls from within Nepal and abroad.
- The system can check the real-time data and international traffic of all the service providers.
- It can store the records of local and international traffic volume, identify and avert VoIP gateways, and also assess the quality of telecom services.
- Render real-time traffic visualization of traffic exchange.
- The system will run throughout the year and store and transfer all the call data records and identify unauthorized calls to NTA.
But the regulator keeping all the call and internet records of its subscribers has met with disapproval from Nepali telcos.
Nepal Telecom And Ncell Are Not Yet Ready for TERAMOCS, Call and Bandwidth Monitoring
Nepali mobile service operators have stated that they won’t share call and data records with NTA. They remain adamant that even after Teramocs comes into operation, they might not exchange any details. Their stance underlies the fear of the (possible) misuse of data. But NTA itself has made it clear that the system doesn’t trace phone calls/SMS, or access user data.
Ntc has been more in denial of the system integration as the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2072 decided to secure users’ privacy/data and says they cannot go against that ruling. The state-backed operator maintains that it’s discussing the matter. Ntc’s Co-Spokesman Paramatma Bhattarai said that the company seeks to cooperate in a way not to neglect the regulator.
“We have previously shared our perspective with the authority so there’s nothing new to it,” Bhattarai said, “But the authority now demanded encrypted data which was not the case previously. Regarding sharing of user data, we want to go along with the Supreme Court’s decision.” He also maintained that the company doesn’t refuse to share data with NTA but is seeking a solution to it.
Both have expressed their reservations
Likewise, the company has offered its rationale for being not yet ready to sign up for TERAMOCS. While not rejecting the idea entirely, it has wished for a unilateral discussion to facilitate further process. Find all in detail here: Reasons Nepal Telecom is Hesitant for TERAMOCS Implementation
In a similar vein, private telco Ncell has also clarified that it has not yet integrated TERAMOCS into its network. Refuting and condemning “defaming” news on the media, the operator said that it is only studying technical aspects of the system for now.
The 7-day deadline to agree with NTA on TERAMOCS has ended and the former has now stopped facilitating the company on foreign exchanges, telco gear procurement, etc. It will have an impact on service expansion and the import of technology and equipment.
On the other hand, Ncell has consented to share encrypted data with NTA. Phone tapping is one of the main reasons the operator is hesitant to comply with the regulator.
The PM had his reservation
PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda,” says that the ambitious TERAMOCS (Telecommunication Traffic Monitoring and Fraud Control System) project initiated by Telecom regulator Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) won’t be implemented immediately. He hinted at a delay in the controversial system’s operation while speaking with the media on Tuesday, August 15.
“Technology that includes tapping citizens’ phone calls won’t come into operation,” PM Dahal declared, “Even if millions have been spent on procuring the equipment.”
TERAMOCS won’t tap phone calls- NTA affirms
Releasing a public notice, NTA has tried to clarify the most vexing concerns as it seeks progress on its implementation. The authority states that TERAMOCS has no capacity to tap phone calls or threaten users’ privacy. The system only allows the authority to monitor the quality of service and minimize fraudulent activities. However, it has no capability to access voice and SMS data and have access to user details. Below, you can find the details regarding what TERAMOCS can or can’t do.
|What TERAMOCS Does?
|What TERAMOCS Doesn’t Do?
|Monitor the status of the total volume of international/national voice call and SMS declared by the operator
|TERAMOCS won’t tap phone calls contrary to what has been claimed.
|Totally control undeclared or under-declaring calls and SMS.
|Won’t check on any SMS content of a customer.
|Checks if the operator is providing the quality as set by ETSI (European Telecommunication Standard Institute)and ITU (International Telecommunication Union)
|The system can’t read SMS and tap phone calls
|Monitor the status of the total volume of international/national voice calls and SMS declared by the operator
|It can’t downgrade the performance of a mobile network operator (MNO)
|Can control fraudulent activities such as call bypass
|The system can’t cause a threat as it’s connected to a mobile network through a secure “VPN Tunnel”
|Can improve government revenues by undermining activities such as VOIP call bypass
|Only the authorized person at NTA will have access to the system
|Will provide guidelines for future NTA policies
|TERAMOCS don’t have access to user data so won’t be a threat to one’s privacy
To address privacy concerns
Regarding data privacy, NTA has even offered the following solutions:
- Operators can make a contractual agreement with NTA subject to the law on data privacy.
- Service providers may also conduct regular audits through a third-party system auditor use to see if the system is being implemented as per the agreement. Operators can run an audit on data privacy and transmission links.
- If operators are concerned about unauthorized access to user data, they can encrypt the data before sharing them with NTA. This will ensure that they only share the data they want.
When will it roll out?
NTA has undertaken plans and policies for TERAMOCS. However, the implementation has faced a series of roadblocks. The audit report of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has also called on NTA to charge fines to ‘an international consultant who has failed to install and operate the service on time. Further, the Public Account Committee has recently directed the CIAA (Akhtiyar Durupayog Anusandhan Aayog) to investigate the TERAMOCS purchase. This will likely pose a further setback to NTA in its plan to implement the system. If it can overturn all the negativity aside, prove its legitimacy, and convince its rightful utility, then TERAMOCS could come into operation somewhere in the current Fiscal Year FY 2080/81.
On a serious note though, this system looks far from coming into operation any time soon. The authority has spent billions on the project already. Do you think NTA should have already coordinated with all the stakeholders before procuring the hardware for the system? Or are you content with its clarification that phone tapping won’t be a concern? Don’t forget to share your views and opinions on this matter in our comment section below.
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